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Forensic Audit: A Test of Buhari’s Integrity

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Buhari's Integrity

By Obiaruko Christie Ndukwe

The battle lines were drawn, the drums of war drowning the initial applause that greeted the order for the financial probe of the corruption-riddled interventionist agency, the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), whose headquarters is in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.

The first Salvo was fired by the Vice President sometime in May 2019, while on a visit to Delta State. Professor Yemi Osinbajo had publicly declared the commission a non-performer having failed to fulfil its first mandate of developing the oil-rich Niger Delta, in 9 out of 36 states. This shot by President Muhammadu Buhari’s deputy had sent the signal that all was not well with the 19-year-old agency.

This created a loophole for the Governors of the 9 states to wake up from their slumber, and together they paid a visit to the President and demanded the probe of the NDDC.

The move by the Governors who were mostly of the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was seen as a political witch hunt against the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), which was now in control of the commission.

Many believed that the Governors were on a mission to provoke the President against some of his party men from the region who were believed to have their fingers in the pie.

But in a twist of fate, the President, realizing the insidious agenda of the Governors, rather than settle for a probe of the commission from the period APC took over the reins of government, decided to extend the period of the probe from the date of inception to 2019.

The Governors were somehow trapped in their own nets, considering that the APC under Buhari had controlled the NDDC for five years out of the 19-year period. Some of them were actually involved in the sleaze that had characterized the agency and in turn, underdeveloped the region.

The responsibility of supervising the commission rightfully fell on the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs and the supervising Minister of the NDDC, Mr Godswill Akpabio, who was surprisingly appointed a Minister, having lost his earlier bid to return to the Senate, after a thunderous defection to the APC from the PDP.

He was a former Governor of Akwa Ibom State. Akpabio became the burden-bearer as those who were against the forensic audit of the commission let out all arsenals against him, all in a bid to frustrate the probe.

It is no longer news that the battleground became the National Assembly as the two Committees on NDDC in both chambers pulled every string to stop the audit, or at least, to ensure that Akpabio, who was one of them in the 6th Assembly, did not supervise the exercise. It was a widely celebrated battle that pitched the management of the commission against the parliament. It was an epic battle even while the COVID-19 pandemic threatened.

There were efforts to weaken the probe even as the National Assembly fought back. One such way was the stoppage of funds accrued to the organisation, thereby, crippling every activity in the region through the NDDC.

The International Oil Companies (IOCs), which were largely responsible for the funding of the commission, were forced by the Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to stop payments to the NDDC account domiciled at the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

An account tagged NDDC/EFCC was later opened with the CBN, and the IOCs were compelled to pay monies in there, and the EFCC ensured that neither the management of the commission nor the Minister could access the funds.

While the whole drama was on, President Buhari did not bulge as he found a way to navigate out of the roadblocks posed by the National Assembly. He chose to make available the funds for the forensic auditors and quickly had them inaugurated for the assignment.

The urge by Akpabio to resign his appointment, at some point, was deep, yet he was resilient to see to the end of the presidential order, to ascertain the reason why the region had remained underdeveloped in spite of all the monies released for projects.

After a painstaking period of two years, without any contracts awarded or new projects executed, the forensic audit has been concluded. The President has received the report albeit through the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami.

Over 13,000 jobs were said to have been awarded, mobilization paid at 90% and yet, uncompleted or abandoned. A more scary revelation by Akpabio during the presentation of the report was that a whooping N3.2 trillion was paid out during the period in a cheque from 2001 to 2019 and an additional N2.5 trillion from statutory and non-statutory income, bringing the total sum to N6 trillion from the inception of the commission till August 2019.

It is no longer surprising why the fight was intense to scuttle the probe as initial fingers pointed at members of the National Assembly, past and present; political leaders and people of the region in active connivance with people outside the region; the security agencies and in some cases, from the presidency.

Even though the President has shown enough commitment to further investigate and prosecute those to be indicted, there are still doubts in the minds of most Nigerians on the reality of his assurances.

This stems from the belief that 75% of those involved in the merciless rape of the region’s resources are in his party and some, in his government.

Again, there are those who think that the President only hires but fails to fire. Not minding the recent sack of two Ministers.

While Buhari must be commended to toe the path where those before him failed, the President must complete the task by revealing the identities of those behind the monumental corruption in the NDDC, no matter how veiled their identities are, considering that very many of the high profile persons may have used pseudo companies, and in some cases, withdrawn their membership of those companies from the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).

The man in the eye of the storm, Senator Akpabio will not be spared more arrows, for either doing a good job or a bad one; depending on which line of the divide he is viewed. Even though it is not his probe, but Buhari’s!

The time for the President’s highly touted integrity to be put on a scale is now. His ability to resist the temptation of dumping the much-advertised audit will further prove his sincerity to spare no one, irrespective of whose ox is gored, and bring to book those who have voraciously cleaned out the resources of the poor people of the region that has continued to survive the nation’s economy, through oil and gas.

If the report is left in the hands of those who would use it as a tool for political witch hunt; or for “settlement”, then, there was no need in the first place for downing the tools and grinding the commission to a halt for a period of 2 years.

Whatever happens, we, the people of the region demand to know who did what and what is to become of the monies trapped in that phoney safe tagged NDDC/EFCC account?

Obiaruko Christie Ndukwe is a commentator, analyst and columnist based in Port Harcourt, Rivers State

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Feature/OPED

Do Some Politicians Think Their Country is Hopeless?

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Country is Hopeless

By Nneka Okumazie

Money is king, but it mustn’t always rule and it could be the line separating lawful countries and lawless countries.

Is there a possibility that the situation in some developing countries is hopeless? Is it possible that a few politicians know?

The dominant economic system in the world is capitalism. This system, for some countries, had led to progress, while for others, it has led to ruin. There are nations where everyone is looking for money for survival, comfort and for the sake of it, not money as a tool for true progress.

Businesses, projects, etc. to a good extent should have parts dedicated directly to the progress of that country. Others should bear indirect importance.

However, in any country, where businesses or projects bear no direct or indirect contribution to progress, such that it is just for survival or for a profit of no beneficial purpose, the country will be motionless.

There are lots of these kinds of countries where everyone hates government, but no government is more powerful than the system it operates. Most nations are weakened by a system, a collective sightlessness and a lack of courage.

What is the use of so many businesses if they cannot fashion out how to lead their country to progress, beyond just importing to sell things made elsewhere?

What is the value of business education if the knowledge provided cannot coordinate adjustments?

The purpose must not always be capital. The end result must not always be money. There should be designs for long term endeavours with people who would be ready to go with it for the good of their nation.

People of knowledge and potential are abundant in every country, but it is one thing to be smart, it is another thing to be smart and courageous for new paths for progress, and it is something more, to be smart and for that smartness to be ready.

There are many learned people who seem to be doing fine, but whatever they know or can do is not ready – in what it takes to make a difference or bring good change.

Therefore, for many, the perks of where they are are enough, but they have careers that can never take aim – at risk of losing everything – towards real development.

[1 Samuel 17:33, But Saul replied, “You can’t go fight this Philistine. You’re just a youth, and he’s been a warrior since he was young.”]

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7 Ways Tech Can Help to Get You on Track with Your Resolutions

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new year resolutions

The new year is only a few weeks old, but for many, the optimism for fresh opportunities and goal setting that informed their new year’s resolutions may be starting to disappear.

If you’ve already gone off track, adopting technology can help ensure you achieve your goals. Here are seven ways that technology can help you conquer 2022.

  1. Stay motivated, ask Assistant: One way to make sure that you stay on track with your set goals is to stay consistently motivated. Using your mobile device or phone, simply ask Google Assistant: “Hey Google, how do I stay motivated?” You will get a list of suggestions on how to regularly review your goals, how to find mentors, how to surround yourself with positive people and how to exercise among other motivational tips.
  2. Set reminders, be punctual: If you’re looking to be more punctual this year, set reminders so you don’t lose track of time. You can easily create reminders with the help of Google Assistant. Using your mobile device or phone, simply say, “Hey Google, set a reminder”, or “Hey Google, remind me to attend a meeting at 7am.” Google Assistant will go on to set a reminder and send you a notification when it is close to the time. This way, you can be sure that you will always be on time.
  3. Eat healthy, count calories: Are you planning to start your healthy eating journey? You can search for healthy diet recipes for satisfying meals. You can also watch a variety of videos on YouTube to learn how to make healthy foods at home. Also, you can check the amount of calories in single-ingredient foods by simply asking Google Assistant. For instance, you can say, “Ok Google, how many calories are in bananas?” This way, you are conscious about what you eat, whether you are trying to lose weight, gain weight or simply maintain a healthy lifestyle.
  4. Keep in touch, meet friends: The COVID-19 pandemic limited social activities like travelling, seeing friends and going out. Even with the recommendations now to ease COVID-19 travel restrictions, connecting virtually is still the adopted norm to keep in touch with friends. If you vowed to be more sociable this year, you can connect with friends and family using Google Meet. Just set up a time to meet and share the link with your friends to join. Using Meet allows you to save time and the hassle of planning actual physical hangouts. Most of all, it is flexible as you can join meetings on the go from your mobile devices, on the Meet app or Gmail.
  5. Learn something new: If your goal for 2022 was to increase your knowledge on a subject matter, learn new interesting things or develop a skill, YouTube videos are a treasure trove of knowledge. For instance, you can watch videos that teach you how to play an instrument, cook like a pro, learn video editing or photography. There are lots of videos on YouTube that can help you take the initiative to learn without the assistance of anyone. If you plan to accelerate your digital skills as well, for your business or career, the Google digital skills for Africa program offers free online training.
  6. Fitness goals, workout devices: Improve your workouts by connecting a fitness device to your Android phone. There are a host of devices from fitness watches, to heart rate monitors or foot pods that will pair with thousands of apps available in the Play Store, to help you reach your fitness goals. Throw in a YouTube playlist of your favourite songs, and you’re sure to get your heart rate up in no time.
  7. Explore new destinations: Whether you are planning to travel out of the country or just to explore more local destinations this year, Google Maps helps beyond just providing navigation, getting alternative routes and real-time information about traffic jams. You can also search for exciting places such as restaurants, parks, tourist attractions, cultural sites, beaches and natural areas that you would like to visit.

For your resolutions to be successful, they should follow the SMART principle and be specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timebound bound. Technology provides the tools for you to tackle your goals in the smartest way possible.

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Feature/OPED

2023: North Central, PDP and the Coming Victory

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PDP anambra election

By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi

History does matter and has shown clearly that ordinary calculation can be upturned by extraordinary personalities. Working under this assumption, it will not be considered an overstatement to conclude that the People Democratic Party (PDP) is set to upturn the present political calculation in Nigeria.

For the sake of clarity, it is important to underline that the above assertion is not anchored on, or a function of the below-average performance of the current federal government which daily manifests in areas such as; ‘continued state of insecurity in the country, the persistent and ceaseless flow of Nigerians blood on a daily basis in many parts of Nigeria, the near-collapse of the security situation in Nigeria, their inability to manage the nation’s economy and develop the oil-rich but socioeconomically backwards Niger Delta’.

Rather, the present intervention is predicated on far-reaching decisions, people–purposed steps and result-oriented actions and inactions recently taken by the party, the PDP.

Essentially, the party aside from demonstrating that it owes its growth and success in the forthcoming 2023 general elections to certain causative factors, Nigerians with discerning minds and development professionals now believe that PDP has finally become reputed for being development-focused and ready to provide good governance.

If it continues on this pedestal, it will definitely lead to victory in the forthcoming 2023 general election and see the Party form government at the centre, they concluded.

To validate that this claim is not misleading, this piece will not only add context to the discourse but spread out with examples of developments.

First and very fundamental is the recently held seamless, rancour-free and credible convention by the party, an exercise that led to the emergence of a former Senate President, Iyorcha Ayu, from Benue State, North Central zone as the party’s National Chairman.

Worthy of commendation is that this success was achieved at a time when other parties in the country, including the ruling party, are still experiencing challenges organizing their convention, Mr Iyorchia Ayu-led National Executive Committee is already hitting the ground running with respect to repositioning the PDP into a credible vehicle for RESCUING and REBUILDING Nigeria which, according to the PDP, has been battered by a bad economy, insecurity, unemployment and other social ills by the incompetent and inept APC administration.

From the above flows the second factor and actor propelling the belief of a PDP likely victory in the forthcoming general election in the country. This particular ‘concern’ has to do with the fresh in-road made by the party in the North Central part of the country. This current ‘onslaught’ is spearheaded by Samuel Ortom, the Governor of Benue state.

Ortom, as we know, is the only PDP Governor in the whole North-Central political zone. That notwithstanding, he has achieved so many feats and firsts for himself, the state and the political zones. He has promoted tirelessly the party not just in his state but the political zone.

Today, through his ceaseless effort, meetings and consultation with PDP stakeholders from the zone with support coming from the new National Chairman, political alignments and realignments across all the states of the zone is now the order of the day.

The North Central has more or less become a PDP zone as those who were initially deceived in 2015 and have remained in darkness appear to have finally seen the light and known the truth. They are now willing to switch to the PDP in readiness for the 2023 general election.

The people of the zone seems to have come to terms that behind every major socioeconomic and security failure in the last seven years in the country, lies a failed decision by the government at the centre, and behind every failed decision lies a government that failed its people- a government that did not carry out its duty properly, and having made the wrong decision or delaying the process.

Beyond the party’s achievement in the North Central, there are in fact other glaring reasons that will work in PDP’s favour.

This piece/intervention may not be alone with the above position. The communiqué issued by the PDP Governors Forum after their recently-held crucial meeting on Monday, January 17, 2022, at the Rivers State Government House, Port Harcourt, not only speaks volumes but supports this position.

The party spoke the mind of Nigerians.

Fundamentally, let us begin to address the content of the PDP Governors’ communiqué by repeating some points already made in the areas of insecurity, economy among others, as it says something new and different.

Beginning with the economy, the party said in part; The Nigerian economy has continued to deteriorate and Nigerians have become numb and accustomed to bad economic news as exemplified by the inconsistent and differential exchange rate regime, high-interest rates, unsustainable unemployment figures and borrowing spree some of which have not been applied to important projects, and other bad economic indicators.

In particular, it is clear that the APC Government is a massive failure when compared with the records of PDP in government. The PDP handed over a $550 billion economy (the largest in Africa), but under APC, Nigeria is the poverty capital of the world.

In 2015, under PDP, the exchange rate was N198 per Dollar, it is now under APC almost N500 to a Dollar; In 2015, the unemployment rate was 7.3% under PDP, it is now 33%, one of the highest in the world under APC; In 2015, the Pump price of Petroleum was N87 per litre, it is now N165 per litre and climbing under APC. Debt servicing now under APC takes over 98% of the Federal budget. The tales of woe are endless.

Undoubtedly, this piece and of course the world is in agreement with the above analysis by the party.

And among all the reasons, deep-seated is the prevailing harsh economic situation in the country, a state of depression, and proliferation of insecurity in the country which today typifies Nigeria as a country in dire need of peace and social cohesion among her various socio-political groups. Over the years, myriads of socio-political contradictions have conspired directly and indirectly to give the unenviable tag of a country in constant search of social harmony, justice, equity, equality, and peace.

On insecurity in the country, the PDP spoke what has been on the minds of Nigerians as they (PDP EXCO) lamented the continued state of insecurity in the country, the persistent and ceaseless flow of Nigerians blood on a daily basis in many parts of Nigeria, the near-collapse of the security situation in Nigeria. The strategies to confront terrorists, kidnappers, bandits and other criminals are still a major problem of the APC administration.

The situation says something more.

To be continued.

Utomi Jerome-Mario is the Programme Coordinator (Media and Public Policy), Social and Economic Justice Advocacy (SEJA), a Lagos-based Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). He could be reached via Jeromeutomi@yahoo.com/08032725374.

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